A terrible event happened on 9/11. It killed over 3000 people. The perpetrators were terrorists. The CIA had spent millions of dollars on funding the perpetrators. "Hang on," you say, "Is this some crazy conspiracy theory?"
Different country, different year! On September 11, 1973 the United States welcomed a military coup in Chile which overthrew a democratically elected government and cost the lives of over three thousand people. The Allende government had nationalized the country's copper industry and maintained warm relations with Cuba. To counter this development, the CIA got involved in efforts to destabilize the government. The rightwing coup of General Pinochet led to decades of brutal dictatorship. Oppositionals were arrested, tortured or killed. Despite this, Pinochet was praised by Washington for "restoring law and order". Even those Chileans that escaped into exile were not safe. In 1976 a former official of the Allende government and an American woman were murdered in a car bomb explosion in the US – an act of terrorism.
Saddam Hussein, now an arch villain, was once a powerful ally of the US. He was armed to fight a proxy war against Iran, a war of aggression that he himself had started, and that lasted longer than World War II. When people talk of the "first Gulf War", they usually refer to the one in 1991. It would be more accurate to call it the "second Gulf War." The real first Gulf War, now largely forgotten in Western countries, took place between Iraq and Iran from 1980 to 1988. It claimed hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides.
When Saddam Hussein's forces invaded oil-rich Kuwait in 1990, they only repeated what he had attempted ten years earlier. In 1980 Saddam Hussein tried to take advantage of the turmoil in revolutionary Iran by starting a land grab on the oil rich gulf coast of that country, with which Iraq had a border dispute. It is true that Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destructiion against his own people, but he did that as a US ally, having received billions of dollars in US loans.
During that invasion and war he had the open support of both the US government and Saudi Arabia, neither of which had much love for the regime in Tehran. To the US-allied royal Saud family, which has ruled Saudi Arabia since the 1930s, any revolution in their region was a direct threat. When the islamic revolution swept away Shah Reza Pahlevi of Iran, it removed one of the closest allies of the US in the oil-rich region.
This story goes back to the early days of the cold war. In 1953 the CIA orchestrated a coup against a popular nationalist government in Tehran. In 1951 the British-owned Anglo-lranian Oil Company had been nationalized. Britain and the US plotted the downfall of Prime Minister Mossadegh, who was ousted in a coup in 1953. Shah Reza Pahlevi was returned to power and became the absolute ruler of the country, which for a quarter of a century was the most trusted Middle East ally of the US next to Israel. It became a major arms buyer in the region, second only to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the Shah stomped out all dissent using his notorious secret police, the SAVAK. According to a 1976 Amnesty International report, Iran had the "highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture which is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record in human rights than Iran."
But the brutal shah regime could not last forever. With all secular opposition suppressed, it were religious leaders such as Ayatollah Chomeini who led a successful revolution against the monarchy. In order to stop this revolution from extending to other countries, the US teamed up with Saddam Hussein in his ill-conceived war against the new Islamic Republic of Iran. But neither billions of dollars from Saudi bank accounts nor high resolution pictures of battle fields from US spy satellites nor weapons of mass destructions developed and used while Iraq was a US ally could win the war against Iran. In fact, Iran started to get the upper hand. When Saddam could not win the war and finally had to sue for peace, he ceased being a strategic asset for the West. Finally, when Saddam tried to reenact the attack on Iran with Kuwait as the new victim, he found to his surprise that he had outlived his usefulness for the US.
The "American Century" - Democracy For The World?
A US official famously remarked about the Dominican dictator Trujillo: "He may be a son of a bitch but he's OUR son of a bitch." Duvalier, Marcos, Mobutu and many other dictators were supported by the west because, although they tortured and killed thousands, they were anti-communists and that seemed to be all that mattered. Even in Europe, the common denominator for NATO during the cold war was not democracy, but anti-communism, as the membership of Turkey and military ruled Greece as well as the cooperation of fascist Spain and Portugal demonstrated.
When in 2003 the US invaded Iraq, supposedly to turn it into a democratic model for the Middle East, it did so with the support of governments of countries where up to 85% of the population were opposed to that war. Now the US are keen to postpone any elections in Iraq as far as possible. It seems likely that the 60% of the population who are Shiites would elect a government that would maintain friendly ties with fellow Shiite Iran and almost certainly opposed to keeping US forces stationed in Iraq. The aim of maintaining military power in the region is mutually exclusive with the proclaimed aim of establishing democracy in Iraq. You can't have your cake and eat it.
Sometimes I am a bit naive, because I believe in common sense when it is too obvious a particular route can only lead to disaster. When Croatia and Serbia had fought a bloody war over the breakup of Yugoslavia, I was hoping at the early stage of conflict in Bosnia that an even more atrocious war could be avoided there, because its population was so ethnically mixed, war would mean terrible bloodbaths. Every side had to see that, surely? But civil war it was to be.
In the aftermath of 11 September 2001 I was similarly hopeful. The US simply had to realize that ignoring Israel's continued illegal land grabs in occupied territories had backfired and produced hatred against the US at an enormous scale. That would have to come to an end now. Only a fair, negotiated settlement of the conflict in Israel and Palestine could defuse the powder keg of anger and hatred that had led to 9/11. Furthermore, the US would have to push for democratic reforms in allied Arab countries such as Egypt, which has received $50 Billion in US foreign aid over the last three decades.
It hasn't happened. Instead, President Bush has tried to use military might to solve what are political problems. By hijacking the anger over the attacks of 9/11 to settle an old score of his father against Iraq, using lies and deceptions to make a bogus connection where there was none, he did a great disservice to the struggle against terrorism worldwide. In little more than one year he blew an incredible amount of goodwill that had existed towards the US after the attacks.
The Bush government has alienated virtually all its international allies and made millions of new enemies. Today America is not more but less safe than it was before those planes struck the WTC and the Pentagon. Young Americans are dying in their hundreds in a war that only makes America more enemies by the day.
I don't believe that propping up dictators or military invasions are the best way to make the world a safer and more humane place. You can't achieve moral ends through immoral means, however hard you try, because the means will corrupt the ends.
Bruce Schneier: 'An Enormous Waste of Money'
Arundhati Roy: 'The algebra of infinite justice' (Guardian, 2001-09-29)
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